We didn’t really need a Caltech study to tell us that people enjoy wine more when they think it’s more expensive, but it happened anyway, so let’s talk about it.
Researchers offered participants five Cabernet Sauvignons that were ostensibly sold at different prices, but two of the wines were used twice, at different price points. For these repeated wines, the participants tended to like the sample marked with the higher price.
But it wasn’t just that they said they liked the higher-priced wine better; they were hooked up to MRIs, and their brains were registering a higher level of pleasure with the higher prices. So the taste buds are sending the same exact chemical signals to the brain, but they get overridden on the way by our economic cortex.
It’s unfortunate, because we’d certainly like eating (and drinking) to be a pure experience unadulterated by petty capitalism. But nothing is unadulterated by petty capitalism! Wonder what the results would be if, instead of wine, they tested strategically mispriced cocaine. These chemicals get to the brain in a much less mediated fashion than wine does, and might be able to overcome the iron shackles of price.
Anyway, all hope is not lost. The same people were subjected to a different test - they were each offered the wines without price, and rated the cheapest one on top. The researchers chalked this up to the subjects’ lack of sophistication, but maybe it also explains the weakness of their wills when it came to price oversensitivity in the first experiment? Probably not, though.
[Photo: yes, there’s a glass of wine next to that equipment (thomask/flickr)]